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Going Out / Entertainment
On access: "Our local cinema is excellent, reserving specific seats for my needs, but West End theatres can be old buildings with inflexible rules."
Despite the Disability Discrimination Act which says that companies must make "reasonable adjustments" to accommodate disabled users, many buildings don't have good access, so it's worth checking before going anywhere.
For example our local cinema is excellent, reserving specific seats for my needs (they will even look after an assistance dog for you) but West End theatres are old buildings with inflexible rules - if you aren't actually in a wheelchair, arranging a seat for your needs can be almost impossible and extremely frustrating. Seating plans are not always accurate, and often you can't use the disabled bay unless you are in a wheelchair. If, like me, you need extra legroom your only option is to book so far in advance you can get tickets for the front row, which are also the most expensive seats! Sometimes it can be better to book for the disabled bay and either hire a wheelchair or get your assistant to carry a fold-up chair for you. There is an excellent access guide to London theatres.
You can also obtain the CEA Card which enables you to take an assistant to participating cinemas free of charge.
Many gigs and festivals offer a free ticket for your carer if you provide evidence of disability. You need to book through the venue's ticket office and not through an agency, unless otherwise stated. They also let you in before the crowds so you can find a vantage point where you are comfortable and don't have to stand in a queue for ages. The Mean Fiddler group are particularly good for this, although the information is missing from their website since they were bought out in 2007. If you are going to a venue or event don't be afraid to call beforehand to ask about access and concessions, many will at least let you in early.
I have written a guide to my experiences as a disabled festival goer at Glastonbury Festival, called Glastonbury for Disabled People.
Wembley Stadium also stands out for its disabled access. You book tickets for events though Ticketmaster's special needs booking line, and they usually offer 2 for 1 for disabled people (including those with mental rather than physical impairments) at the price of the cheapest tickets for that event. Wheelchair bays are numbered, so you are guaranteed a specific space rather than needing to arrive very early to get a good seat. The O2 arena also has good provision, with the main viewing platform (block 101) very close to the stage (book via the O2's own disabled booking line to get 2 for 1 tickets). On the day, you need to be there as the doors open to secure the best spot, but all spaces on that platform have a great view.
Many attractions offer concessions for disabled people, and often their carer can also go for free. Check out websites or call in advance, as sometimes the people selling tickets on the door won't know - or offer - but if you know what to ask for, you can have it! For example, the Southbank Centre (Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery etc.) offer concessions or free carer tickets but only if you join their free access list in advance. Some other attractions such as the London Eye will give you a reduced price, with my carer free. In the Tower Bridge Experience, both the disabled person and carer can go free. Of course this applies around the UK, not just to London attractions. Check out the venues' websites before you go.
If you need help getting around you can hire a scooter from Shopmobility in many towns and shopping centres - they are usually located by the disabled parking bays in large carparks. Usually the charge is just a few pounds, but you may need to pre-book to be sure of getting a scooter.
In addition many areas will offer extra help from volunteers, for example assisting Shopmobility users with their Christmas shopping.
You can read and add reviews of venues and services at Inaccessible UK, which can be invaluable when planning a trip.